In my career I have to juggle a lot of different roles. Often I take on an educator role (which makes sense since I work in continuing professional development), which can vary from curriculum design to actual teaching. One of the workshops I have come to teach fairly regularly is interviewing. In particular, going from interviewing as a clinician (e.g. nurse, doctor, pharmacist, etc.) to interviewing as a researcher.

I’ve found that my training in clinical interviewing has been the real saving grace in my research career. Now, there are many differences between interviewing as a clinician and interviewing as a researcher; for example, who holds the “power” in the interview. You also have to think a lot more about who you are portraying yourself as (e.g. nurse or a social scientist), what you therefore need to wear, what kind of language you should use… Basically you have a lot of Zoolander-esque moments where you’re gazing into puddles and asking yourself, “Who am I?” However, many of the core principles to being a good interviewer I’ve found to be quite transferable, such as active listening and reading body language.

And thank goodness because my first experience doing a research interview was a metaphorical dropkick into the research deep end.

I was sent out to interview an elite, which essentially means I was interviewing someone very powerful in the medical world. As a junior researcher and nurse, I felt like we were on complete opposite ends of the power spectrum. This was a new and unwelcome feeling because in clinical interviews I had always held the power. I’ve long posited that as healthcare professionals we have this perceived “right” to ask patients very invasive questions that, quite frankly, I wouldn’t even ask my closest friends or family. However, in interviewing an elite I was suddenly very cognizant that I didn’t hold the power; it was a privilege that he was sharing his time and perspective. [Side note: shouldn’t we have the same attitude towards our patients!?]

But at the time I wasn’t this introspective. Basically I was just trying to focus on getting my questions out without vomiting and/or fainting.

The interview itself went fine, although I think the stress of it may have shortened my life expectancy by a few months. After I packed up my notebook and recorder, the interviewee walked over to the window and struck a very dramatic Hollywood-worthy pose as he gazed down on the street below. He then did a 10-minute monologue on what I had been trying to get out of him for over 60 minutes.

Well, crap.

I literally ran back to my office (in heels, I might add) and barricaded myself in my office so I could immediately transcribe as much as I could remember.

My interviewing skills and confidence have obviously improved over the years. Now I would just start taking notes, or even ask if I could turn the recorder back on. However, at the time – and I’m sure for many people starting out – it was a bit overwhelming.

Anyone who is preparing to conduct an interview can take guidance from the old nursing school proverb: Prepare for the worst, expect the best. Prepare and bring an interview script with your questions on it. Even if you don’t follow it exactly, it’ll provide you with some structure if you get stuck. It’s also good to arrive early to ensure you, (a) find the location where you will be doing the interview without feeling rushed, and (b) are able to set up if necessary.

And of course, always bring extra batteries for your recorder, as well as a pen and paper. Sometimes technology fails us!